WISE, VA – FEBRUARY 23, 2024 — Three grants totaling $332,250 to expand service and to finance the provision of Starlink low earth orbit space-based broadband service to further expand telehealth access in Wise County, VA have recently been closed by the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA).

The three grants include:

  • up to $161,250 to the Wise County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) for the Mountain Empire Older Citizens (MEOC) broadband access project for unserved and/or underserved Wise County senior citizens with telemedicine or telehealth needs;
  • up to $150,000 for service expansions through the IDA’s project with the St. Mary’s Health Wagon to identify telehealth/telemedicine patients in Wise County in need of services; and
  • up to $21,000 to the IDA for mobile telehealth services provided by the LENOWISCO Health District.

Each of the grants will cover hardware, installation and a two-year subscription to Starlink services.

“VCEDA is pleased to work with the Wise County IDA on these three projects to expand Starlink services to those in need of telehealth and telemedicine services there,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher. “The VCEDA Board has approved several applications for funding from the VCEDA Education and Telehealth Access Fund in our member counties which have already resulted in hundreds of unserved and/or underserved school children in the VCEDA region being provided with Starlink satellite Internet services. These new grants address telehealth and telemedicine needs identified by the IDA in Wise County.”

VCEDA was appropriated $500,000 in the Virginia state budget for FY2023 and $500,000 in FY2024 “for initiatives intended to expand education and telehealth access.”  Previously, in FY2022, VCEDA also received $500,000 for that purpose. VCEDA administers the funds received from the state through its VCEDA Education and Telehealth Access Fund.

The up to $161,250 grant to the IDA for MEOC will provide services to unserved and/or underserved senior citizens with telemedicine and/or telehealth needs in Wise County, particularly those with transportation and/or mobility issues.  The IDA is working with MEOC who is utilizing its database of clients to identify senior citizens who are currently underserved or unserved by existing Internet service providers and have an existing need for telemedicine and/or telehealth services.  An added benefit, according to the IDA application, is that this can also be used as an extended resource to help seniors with isolation issues that have resulted from the pandemic. 

According to the IDA application, MEOC has committed $53,750 toward the project through its Congregate Nutrition Program, which also provides each participant with a computer tablet that could be utilized for telehealth with the broadband service. 

The up to $150,000 grant to the IDA for the project with St. Mary’s Health Wagon will bring an additional estimated 50 households high speed Internet, which includes an estimated 65 telemedicine patients. Wise County is working with the Health Wagon to identify the patients. The Health Wagon has approved a $50,000 match for the grant, according to the IDA application for funding. 

Also closed was an up to $21,000 grant to the IDA to benefit the LENOWISCO Health District. Through that grant, two mobile units operated by the LENOWISCO Health District will be equipped with Starlink services. The mobile units can be used by the health district within the area to assist with mobile medicine, health maintenance and nutrition through live interactive, two-way audio-video consultation with medical specialists at any location or while on the move.  They can also help with real-time data sharing of patient tests and vitals, according to the IDA application. The health district has approved a $7,000 match to help fund the mobile dish units.

“The Wise County IDA is excited to be a part of these exciting projects that will continue efforts to provide quality Internet service to underserved and unserved residents of Wise County,” said Wise County IDA Executive Director Brian Falin. “Telemedicine opportunities for seniors and other residents with mobility issues will add to these agencies’ efforts of increasing the health and well-being of our region and we are proud to be a part of these projects.”

About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Southwest Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Southwest Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education, emerging technologies, and entrepreneurship. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vceda.us or www.e-Region.org.